I’ve been reading the biography of Mister Rogers.
When I choose ventures like reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mister Rogers, Maya Angelou – I must stay mindful of my tendency to compare my life and come out deficient. Many’s the time I’ve had to forego reading, because I began silently berating myself for being so deficient. Ego abounds. Not a great practice. (But then again – little chance anyone reading would be moved to compare!)
Mister Rogers was every bit the good neighbor his work signified. I’m about halfway done and am ever grateful for the peek behind the curtain. I’m humbled to say I never imagined the Pittsburgh area to be as progressive as it has been and is (again, ego abounds) – which thrills me all the more because my stepdaughter is studying (in the sciences) and living in Mister Rogers’ stomping grounds.
Rogers was meticulous about giving children, through each one of his shows, the highest quality experience possible. Hence, many’s the time he would halt production (a very expensive endeavor) and walk out of the studio, down the street, to Dr. Margaret McFarland, a child development expert he associated closely with, to uncover what it was in a script that did not sit well with him and return to production with the changes.
At 59 I am still privileged (and restored) watching the works of such a good neighbor.
An elder friend of mine, who has long since passed, a couple decades ago passed along a term I oft used in the past but all but forgot about, until recently.
She was a diminutive woman – mild mannered, patient and pressing for the positive. Some time in my mid-thirties I’m sure I was relaying to her some rugged circumstance I was having to deal with, when she said nonchalantly, “Sounds like an AFGO to me.” “AFGO?” “Yes – Another F _ _ _ _ _ _ Growth Opportunity.”
In my 30s and 40s I thought I’d always hover around those decades. Sunday I turn 59 – almost through my sixth decade. And donning my strangely emerging mantel as elder, I find myself marveling at the refreshing wisdom of youngers.
Recently my House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez caught my attention from her inaugural address before the House. I heard this young, vibrant politician say, among other things, that we do not hold 800,000 workers hostage to their paychecks because we can’t get what we want – especially when most of us don’t want what you want.
And earlier this week I was brought to tears by the talent, humility and good fortune of a young NYU graduate, Maggie Rogers, who was expecting to go home to a mundane job – like I did as an administrative assistant at a douche factory in Gloucester (I leave that imagery to you), but was instead discovered by Pharrell Williams in a master class.
In the NPR interview I heard, she spoke earnestly of her continuing difficult transition into a widespread public life of fame and her sense of loss of her previous more quiet private state.
And I marvel at these youngers who tell it like it is.
My daughter gave me ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama for Christmas. It is a rare thing to get an ‘over the kitchen table’ 300+ page talk of another’s life, at once remarkable and down to earth.
Our former first lady writes of a full and enterprising life from her modest childhood through to her last days as FLOTUS. As an epilogue she adds her uniquely measured levity to these days after.
Reading, I felt in the company of both a deepening respect and ache. Because all the while the Obamas were inhabiting our most esteemed national residence, I sensed the presence of quiet, unpretentious dignity and majesty. And though the world be wild and wooly, our national home stood firm, mature and fair.
In her book Obama is forthcoming with those gritty mundane moments we all experience – but there’s a depth and breadth to her and our former president’s understandings that I sorely miss on our national stage.
Theirs are the qualities I wholeheartedly elect into public office. For me it’s a boon to be able to witness such tidal greatness in my lifetime – like the beauty of movement and studied intuition we’ve been privy to witnessing through Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots (Go Pats!) – and I am blessed to have a tangible sacrament of that grandeur in Michelle Obama’s book, ‘Becoming’. Thanks, Luv. Mom.
It’s a curious thing, writing a script. Since receiving an artist-in-residency grant from the Margret & H.A. Rey Foundation for writing a first draft of a musical I’ve had in mind for decades, I have been working the script and songs. I started this last rewrite after a year hiatus.
It’s remarkable how characters tell you who they are. You try to make them one way, but they turn around, basically, blow smoke in your face, and tell you who they are. Quite uncompromising.
I’ve done enough writing to know the core of the work does reach a state of equilibrium – a place where the intense focus on rightness of time, place, speech and action can relax – but it can be a long, arduous (and invigorating!) journey getting there.
I spent this past Monday morning in Salem District Court, at the suggestion of a police officer in October. His was not just a random suggestion to a passerby. I was given a ticket for blocking an intersection I had no indication it was unlawful to block. After I told the officer writing up my ticket that I saw no signs saying ‘Do Not Block Intersection’, he suggested I refute the charge in court – as he handed me the ticket. “It’s your civic right.”
I felt like saying, “Thank you so much for the $105 dollar lesson in civics.” But I didn’t! And this past Monday morning I refrained from telling the magistrate once again, after she told me, in her opinion, the intersection was sufficiently marked – that in my opinion it wasn’t – a nod to age and experience.
I came prepared with photographs illustrating how the signs hanging twenty feet up in the air were blocked that October Friday morning at 11am by my visor, protecting my view from the sun. I did finally see the signs going through the intersection again later, while looking up, down and all around.
Ultimately the magistrate downgraded my ticket to a warning.
As I was readying to leave, that same stern faced magistrate smiled ever so slightly and said to the presiding police officer, “It is refreshing to hear someone actually admit they were blocking the intersection. No one ever does.”
That intersection must provide lucrative income for the City of Salem.
I find myself feeling more and more pressed down by the actions of this present presidential administration. This wall is getting heavier and heavier. I feel like, for the next two years at least, I should strap myself up to one of those automatic air pumps, so I can feel some much needed buoyancy. My psyche feels starved for it.
I did not know how deeply I identified and relied on belonging to a country who said a resounding ‘yes’ to those in need. I mean, I’m not Polyannish. I’m well aware there are many citizens of our country who could thrive greatly from a devoted ‘yes’ from our country. Perhaps there is not enough ‘yes’ to go around.
But I take to heart those two young children of two hopeful families, who died in our care. And still those in our highest seats of power seem to give little note to that – and apparently bear no personal responsibility.
I am aching for our country. I ache for a country being led by a man whose policy decisions can be radically altered by opinions from talk show opportunists.
I must not write much in this vein for it feels too profoundly devastating.
I trust we have much to learn from our present circumstances and look forward to learning it and moving on.
There are several regulars who walk routes around Hopkinton. Runners too – running, that is – but this entry is about a particular walker.
I believe the woman walker is a bit younger than me. Perhaps by a decade or so. My husband mentioned seeing her many times picking up trash as she makes her way along her route. I noticed one time while out running but gave it no mind – until Peter shared observation, and – until yesterday.
I am one who, while out walking or running – loves saying ‘hi’ to people. Any and every one I pass. My greeting is not always reciprocated – but mostly it is. So I felt thrilled and energized when yesterday this particular woman, who I’ve only ever said ‘hi’ to in passing, saw me standing on my doorstep outside and came striding intently towards me.
“I helped my dad paint our house your same colors when I was growing up – avocado with cream.” “Really!” “Yes. I love those colors.” “Me too. Thanks.”
“Have a good day,” she said, crossing back over. That’s when I learned she doesn’t just pick up trash. At our across the street neighbors’ front yard she abruptly stopped and bent over to pick up sticks strewn across their lawn, placing them in an already established pile by the trunk of the tree. Her simple gesture struck me.
She knows how to be a good neighbor.
Sometimes the powers-that-be choose for you.
I played a gig last Saturday night here in Hopkinton at Bill’s Pizza. It’s been a few decades since I’ve played a restaurant. In the 80s I was in a few Top 40 bands and played clubs/restaurants/bars from Connecticut to Maine. It was lots of fun being there as well as preparing several cover tunes to bolster my collection of originals – which I would not have had the same concentrated time and energy to do if I hadn’t sliced my left middle finger open pitting an avocado.
I felt conflicted the day after Christmas, preparing to head up to ski at Waterville Valley with family. My responsible performer voice was murmuring I should stay home, research cover tunes and put together set lists. I was planning to take the keyboard up but I knew practice time would be a tad less productive up there amidst the hubbub, rather than down here, amidst the quiet.
So as I stood in my angst, holding said avocado in my left hand, while wedging a knife point into the pit to flick it out, the universe saw fit for me to slip and plunge the knife through the avocado into the base of my finger, separating the skin into two separate sides. I put the avocado down and looked on with curiosity as I flexed the finger and saw two sides of the cut separate. Chauffeured by my husband, three medical facilities later, I gained three stitches to my body mass, and an assured concentrated time and energy over the next three days to prepare for my gig, as the medical professional eyed me and chuckled when I asked if it would be okay to cross country ski.
Sometimes the powers-that-be choose for you.
My mother once said something quite curious to me. And the even more curious thing that occurs to me is that I believe she said it the summer I was out in Estes Park Colorado – the summer she was home struggling with advancing cancer to which she succumbed that following December.
“Manda, sometimes reuniting with family is done in twenty minutes.” I remember as a twenty-something thinking that sounded cold, cruel and callous and couldn’t be. With experience, I appreciate my mom’s courage saying that – especially because, if my memory serves me right, she shared that at a time when she must have had an inkling of her waning time on earth.
I see the sacrifice of loving parent to child = giving permission for guilt-free agitation in the midst of family they’ve outgrown. In a funny way she let me know I was greatly loved – and that I could greatly love – in the midst of all my feelings.
Thanks, Mom, for sharing your sage ‘family in twenty’.